County Joins the Safety and Justice Challenge to Create a Fairer, More Effective Local Justice System

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Santa Clara County is One of 20 Counties and Cities to Receive Grants to Design and Test Innovative Criminal Justice Reforms

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIF.— The County of Santa Clara and 20 additional jurisdictions throughout the country have been awarded grants by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to design and test innovative local justice reforms for safely reducing jail usage and racial and ethnic disparities in their local justice systems. The County of Santa Clara and these other jurisdictions have joined the Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, a national $100 million initiative that seeks to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails. The County was chosen following a highly competitive selection process that drew applications from across the country.

Many individuals being detained and awaiting trial are being held for nonviolent offenses and are just too poor to post bail,” said President Dave Cortese, County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors. “A better system for communicating free services will help detainees resolve their legal issues; potentially keep their jobs and support their families; and reduce unnecessary incarceration costs to the County.”

Through the Challenge’s Innovation Fund, the County of Santa Clara will receive $50,000 as well as support and expert technical assistance in designing and implementing local reforms focused on reentry services, pretrial release alternatives to jail, and commercial bail.

Detainees in Santa Clara County comprise 74% of the jail population. Mostly of color and poor, they and their families and friends currently lack information on alternatives to commercial bail and reentry services. They detrimentally rely on a commercial-bail and jail-oriented environment and are often under the impression that the only way out of jail is to pay or plead.

Individuals in custody in our local jails awaiting pretrial release deserve readily available and linguistically accessible information about their options for release,” said County Executive Jeffrey V. Smith, M.D., J.D. “This initiative is a continuation of the CEO Office’s partnerships with public safety and justice agencies to use collaboration and innovation for improvements that ultimately benefit the entire community.”  

The County of Santa Clara will implement a cost-free, interactive media package in multiple languages explaining pretrial release alternatives, criminal defense and reentry services and how to access them. This media will include looped video inside the jails and pretrial and reentry offices, a public website and an associated mobile application. Until now only information regarding commercial bail bonds and private criminal defense attorneys has been available and detainees and their families were largely unaware of the free services that exist.

The Sheriff’s Office supports access of information for people seeking resources,” said Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith. “Improved technologies may aid individuals in resolving their case and moving forward.”

Santa Clara County will continue to place an emphasis on community engagement and collaboration among local law enforcement, corrections officials, prosecutors, defenders, judges, and other stakeholders in this work to test, innovate, and drive reform.

As a department we strive to give a voice to people whose own power to protect themselves has been constricted by poverty,” said Molly O’Neal, Public Defender for Santa Clara County. “We welcome more tools for informing vulnerable populations of their rights and resources.”

Innovation Fund jurisdictions are eligible for future funding opportunities, and have access to the resources, peer learning opportunities, and expertise of the Safety and Justice Challenge Network. The Urban Institute, which is managing the Innovation Fund in partnership with the Foundation, will provide expert technical assistance to the jurisdictions as they implement their plans. Key learnings and resources emerging from the Innovation Fund will be shared with and beyond the justice reform field.

Local jurisdictions are leading the way on justice reform,” said MacArthur President Julia Stasch. “Demand for reform at the local level is considerable and growing, as evidenced by the number, diversity, and creativity of the applications we received. This momentum is encouraging, particularly as the federal justice reform landscape evolves and shifts.”

Information about the selected jurisdictions, as well as news, research, and events related to the Safety and Justice Challenge, will be published on